After a number of years in the international doldrums, Scottish ladies junior curling has enjoyed unparalleled success these past few years. The decade-long medal drought was ended when Kilmarnock’s Sarah Reid skipped Eve Muirhead, Barbara McFarlane, Sarah Macintyre and fifth player, Alison Black, to a 2007 World Junior Ladies gold medal that, to be very fair, had not necessarily been predicted. Just a couple of months previously, the two Sarahs and Alison had been to Pinerolo to compete in the World University Games and, though their play was much better than their final position gave them credit for, they ended up tenth! Since then, Eve Muirhead has gone on to skip Scotland to three more gold medals in World Junior Championships, and Hannah Fleming finally stepped out of Eve’s shadow to skip Lauren Gray, Alice Spence, Abi Brown and fifth player Jennifer Martin to a deserved gold medal in last season’s World Junior Championship in Östersund, Sweden. Five gold medals in six years is an astonishing success story, and make no mistake, the Canadians, Swedes, Swiss, Norwegians etc. are all sick of the sight of us and want revenge!
So who will go to Sochi in Russia to represent Scotland and to defend our honour? Hannah Fleming returns with two of her gold medal winning rink from last season, third Lauren Gray and lead, Abi Brown. Alice Spence has aged out and has been replaced by Abi’s cousin, Jennifer Dodds. This remains a really strong team and you must consider them warm, if not positively hot, favourites for the Scottish Junior Championship. They have already won the Braehead Open in Glasgow and forced Logan Gray to draw against three shots in the last end of their semifinal match up later in Dumfries. They are mixing at the top level in Scottish open curling and giving as good as they get with experienced senior teams. They will be pressed by a number of good-looking and strong teams in the junior ladies ranks, mind you, whose progress I will follow with great interest.
As an example, the other performance squad in the junior ladies this season is the team skipped by Jennifer Martin. She has Hamilton’s Hazel Smith at third, Vicky Wright from Stranraer at second and Murrayfield’s Mhairi Baird at lead. They were runners-up in the Kinross Classic junior event, though, to be fair, Jennifer had to sit the competition out due to injury. Their conquerors that day were Rebecca Steven, Karen Munro, Clare Degan and substitute Rowena Steven. This was a major breakthrough for Rebecca and she will hope to build on it come the business end of the season!
Winners of the low road were Laura Barr, Emma Hair, Jane Barr and Sophie Sinclair. This is a team to watch and whilst I do not think that they will win the Scottish championship this year, they will certainly challenge in years to come – a look at their surnames tells you that!
Past Scottish champion Tasha Aitken skips Louise Joiner, Naomi Brown and her youngest sister, Karina. This is Tasha’s last year in the juniors and she would like to repeat her Scottish success of two seasons ago when she played second to Lauren Gray.
Maggie Wilson won the first Braehead junior international competition, this year’s Scottish leg of the European junior curling tour. This again is a strong-looking line up, with experience all the way down the rink; third is Lesley Young, second is Becca Kesley and lead Rachel Hannen. Runners-up in the Braehead competition was the team skipped by Gina Aitken (see these Aitkens? They’re everywhere!), third is Katy Richardson, second is Rowena Kerr and their lead is Fiona Telfer.
Finally, Lauren Baxter has stepped into Hazel Smith’s shoes this season and is skipping Naomi Whyte, Sarah Wood and Eilidh Templeton.
What has also struck me this season about the junior ladies teams is their diversity. There is actually only one rink where all the members come from the same home ice rink. Step forward Katie Wright, Lauren Morgan and Jenni Cannon from Stranraer. I have no doubt that their fourth team mate will probably be from the south west of Scotland as well! That there is such a spread of talent speaks to a high level of commitment at junior club level. It is no surprise to see the likes of Murrayfield with ten participants, Stranraer with seven (maybe eight!), Greenacres and Hamilton with five each, Forfar with four and Inverness, Stirling and Dumfries with three. There are sleeping giants needing a prod, mind you: I can only see one Perth young curler and one from Lockerbie (quite a good one, mind you – Hannah Fleming, no less!) in the mix. These things are cyclical though and I have no doubt that there are lots of twelve- and thirteen-year olds doing their thing in those two rinks just waiting to prove me wrong!
The Scottish junior women’s qualifier competition will be played in Perth, December 7-9. There are two sections of six teams and the top three from each section will qualify for the finals in Aberdeen, January 23-27, 2013. There will be a play-off between the fourth-placed teams in each section, the winner of that game also going through to Aberdeen. There, the seven qualifiers will meet Hannah and her team and the eight will fight it out in time-honoured fashion.
Don’t miss it.